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Adapting to Climate Sensitive Hazards through Architecture  

Allison Hoadley Anderson

In architecture, mitigation reduces the magnitude of climate change by reducing demand for resources; anticipatory adaptation improves performance against hazards; and planned adaptation creates policies and codes to support adaptation. Adaptation prepares for a future with intensifying climate conditions. The built environment must prepare for challenges that may be encountered during the service life of the building, and reduce human exposure to hazards. Structures are responsible for about 39% of the primary energy consumption worldwide and 24% of the greenhouse gas emissions, significantly contributing to the causes of climate change. Measures to reduce demand in the initial construction and over the life cycle of the building operation directly impact the climate. Improving performance against hazards requires a suite of modifications to counter specific threats. Adaptation measures may address higher temperatures, extreme precipitation, stormwater flooding, sea-level rise, hurricanes, drought, soil subsidence, wildfires, extended pest ranges, and multiple hazards. Because resources to meet every threat are inadequate, actions with low costs now which offer high benefits under a range of predicted future climates become high-priority solutions. Disaster risk is also reduced by aligning policies for planning and construction with anticipated hazards. Climate adaptation policies based on the local effects of climate change are a new tool to communicate risk and share resources. Building codes establish minimum standards for construction, so incorporating adaptation strategies into codes ensures that the resulting structures will survive a range of uncertain futures.


Hazards, Social Resilience, and Safer Futures  

Lena Dominelli

The concepts of hazards and risks began in engineering when scientists were measuring the points at which materials would become sufficiently stressed by the pressures upon them that they would break. These concepts migrated into the environmental sciences to assess risk in the natural terrain, including the risks that human activities posed to the survival of animals (including fish in streams) and plants in the biosphere. From there, they moved to the social sciences, primarily in formal disaster discourses. With the realization that modern societies constantly faced risks cushioned in uncertainties within everyday life, the media popularized the concept of risk and its accoutrements, including mitigation, adaptation, and preventative measures, among the general populace. A crucial manifestation of this is the media’s accounts of the risks affecting different groups of people or places contracting Covid-19, which burst upon a somnambulant world in December 2019 in Wuhan, China. The World Health Organization (WHO) declared Covid-19 a pandemic on March 11, 2020. Politicians of diverse hues sought to reassure nervous inhabitants that they had followed robust, scientific advice on risks to facilitate “flattening the curve” by spreading the rate of infection in different communities over a longer period to reduce demand for public health services. Definitions of hazard, risk, vulnerability, and resilience evolved as they moved from the physical sciences into everyday life to reassure edgy populations that their social systems, especially the medical ones, could cope with the demands of disasters. While most countries have managed the risk Covid-19 posed to health services, this has been at a price that people found difficult to accept. Instead, as they reflected upon their experiences of being confronted with the deaths of many loved ones, especially among elders in care homes; adversities foisted upon the disease’s outcomes by existing social inequalities; and loss of associative freedoms, many questioned whether official mitigation strategies were commensurate with apparent risks. The public demanded an end to such inequities and questioned the bases on which politicians made their decisions. They also began to search for certainties in the social responses to risk in the hopes of building better futures as other institutions, schools, and businesses went into lockdown, and social relationships and people’s usual interactions with others ceased. For some, it seemed as if society were crumbling around them, and they wanted a better version of their world to replace the one devastated by Covid-19 (or other disasters). Key to this better version was a safer, fairer, more equitable and reliable future. Responses to the risks within Covid-19 scenarios are similar to responses to other disasters, including earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, wildfires, tsunamis, storms, extreme weather events, and climate change. The claims of “building back better” are examined through a resilience lens to determine whether such demands are realizable, and if not, what hinders their realization. Understanding such issues will facilitate identification of an agenda for future research into mitigation, adaptation, and preventative measures necessary to protect people and the planet Earth from the harm of subsequent disasters.


Hurricanes and Health  

Caleb Dresser, Satchit Balsari, and Jennifer Leaning

Hurricanes, also referred to as tropical cyclones or typhoons, are powerful storms that originate over warm ocean waters. Throughout history, these storms have had lasting impacts on societies around the world. High winds, rain, storm surges, and floods affect lives, land, and livelihoods and have a variety of effects on human health. The direct health impacts of hurricanes include drowning due to flooding and trauma resulting from storm surges, blown debris, and structural collapse. Systems for detection, forecasting, early warning, and communications can give populations time to make preparations before hurricane landfall. Evacuation, shelter use, and other preparedness efforts have reduced mortality from hurricanes in many parts of Asia and the Americas. Engineered defenses such as sea walls, flood barriers, and raised structures provide added protection in some settings. While effective in the medium term, such approaches are costly and require dedicated resources, and therefore they have not been implemented in many at-risk sites around the world. Indirect health impacts of hurricanes arise from damage to housing, electricity, water, and transportation infrastructure, and from effects on social supports, economies, and healthcare systems. Indirect health impacts can include infectious diseases, carbon monoxide poisoning, trauma sustained during cleanup, mental health effects, exacerbations of chronic disease, and increases in all-cause mortality. Indirect and long-term health consequences are poorly understood because dedicated study of specific impacts has occurred in only a handful of settings, and, given the diverse array of societies and geographies affected by hurricanes, it is unclear how generalizable the results of these studies may be. Policy makers face three interlinked challenges in protecting human health from hurricanes. First, climate change is leading to increased hazards in many locations by altering hurricane dynamics and contributing to sea-level rise. Second, patterns of intensifying coastal settlement and development are expected to increase population exposure. Third, unequal patterns of exposure and impact on specific populations will continue to raise issues of climate and environmental injustice. Situationally appropriate strategies to protect health from future storms will vary widely, as they must both address the locally relevant manifestations of hurricane hazards and adapt to the cultural and economic context of the affected population. In some areas, inexorable ocean encroachment may lead to consideration of managed retreat from high-risk coastlines; in others, the presence of very large coastal urban populations that cannot feasibly evacuate may lead to design and use of vertical shelters for temporary protection during storms. New ideas and programs are urgently needed in many settings to address hazards associated with extreme rainfall, rising seas on floodplains and low-lying islands, landslide risk in areas undergoing rapid deforestation, and structurally unsound housing in some urban settings. Policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions will help reduce long-term risk from hurricanes and sea-level rise. Without concrete actions to address both hurricane hazards and population vulnerabiliy, the 21st century may be marked by increasingly dangerous hurricanes affecting growing coastal populations that will be left with few viable options for seeking safety.